For Shanna Kirkpatrick, owner of Chara Christian Dance Academy, the key to retaining 96.5 percent of her 1,000-student enrollment through COVID-19 has been communication: regular e-mail updates, mass studio text messages, personal phone calls and—perhaps most significantly—following up with Zoom no-shows.
Kirkpatrick didn't actually need to create any new protocol for this level of communication. She just adapted the process she'd always used to communicate with families when they started with her Friendswood, TX, studio: After divvying up any new families among her staff of 25, each staff member first has a phone call with a new family and then a follow-up e-mail (mostly discussing recital policies). A second follow-up e-mail happens a month later. Throughout this process, one staff member remains that family's primary contact. "When we went to a virtual studio, we basically duplicated that system," says Kirkpatrick. "We reached out via phone call, then e-mail, and then another follow-up e-mail."
It Took a Solid Week
This process did require some tweaking, however. During her first week of virtual classes, Kirkpatrick assigned one staff member the sole task of calling every single family, just to check in. "It took her a solid week to do that," she says. Now, phone call check-ins only happen after two missed Zoom classes. It still "takes a lot of time and a lot of payroll," she says, but it's worth it: "It's more about creating community than content right now."
"What we've found is that about a third of our families who are still paying for what we're doing and love what we're doing, just don't have bandwidth to participate regularly," says Kirkpatrick. But she realized that even though they were paying customers now, there was a greater danger they'd eventually drop out. Follow-up calls help keep the tie to the studio strong. "They're so thankful that we've called—sometimes they've just forgotten," she says. "Even if they're not at every single dance class, they care that we're reaching out." To make taking class even easier on parents, she records and posts all Zoom classes for later access.
A Peek Behind the Curtain
Something else Kirkpatrick has noticed in her communications with parents is that they appreciate transparency and compassion. She has often relied on the phrase "Let me give you a peek behind the curtain during these uncertain times" to allow parents access to her thinking and decision-making (without having to reveal any numbers that she'd rather keep private). She's also made it a point, when discussing COVID-related programming, to include the sentence "We've looked at this through the eyes of a teacher, a student and a parent." It's valuable when her customers understand that she's a three-dimensional business owner, one who cares about her dance community, offering quality content and staying solvent.